This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 5/9/21, at Berkeley Friends Church (via videoconference). The scripture reading for this sermon was: 1 John 5:1-6. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
This morning, we’ve heard about what God is like. God is like a flashlight, shining in the dark. He’s like a loaf of bread. He’s like a best friend, a mama, a daddy. That’s what God is like.
Scripture provides us with a lot of comparisons, to imagine God’s character. Jesus says that God is like a mother hen, caring for us, her baby chicks. The prophet Hosea described God as a mother bear, ready to fight for her cubs. That’s what God is like.
But the authors of scripture don’t stop with just describing what God is like. They don’t stop at simile. The apostles tell us that, in Jesus we have moved beyond the realm of metaphor. We have transcended the old world, when to look upon the face of God was to die. In Jesus, we have seen God and lived. The apostle John writes that, in Jesus, God is come in the flesh and in glory – “the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
The apostle Paul reaffirms this idea in his letter to the Colossians, when he writes that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” The image of the invisible God.
The image of something is not “like” something. It’s not like saying, “God is like a flashlight.” An image is not metaphor, it is faithful representation. To say that Jesus is the image of the invisible God means that he truly demonstrates who God is. When we look at Jesus, we behold God. When we imitate Jesus, we become like God. When we follow Jesus, we walk in the footsteps of the Lord.
Jesus is the image of the invisible God.
Who else is the image of the invisible God?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, in the first chapter of Genesis, it is says that “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” In the image of God he created us.
The church teaches that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, at once both God and man. We don’t know how this works, but we have seen and experienced it to be true. Through the incarnation, Jesus has conquered the world – the powers of sin, death, and the devil.
Throughout the centuries, different groups of Christians have emphasized different parts of Jesus’ identity – human and divine. Some have made him so Godlike that it’s hard to see him as a brother – his humanity gets erased. Others have brought him so down to earth, that it can be hard to see how he’s different from any other historical “great teacher.”
But the church affirms that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Jesus is the living word of God, come in the flesh. He is also a human being, just like you and me.
Just like you and me.
Jesus is us. He’s the best of us. The fullness of us. The completeness of us. He’s what we were created to be. Fully human, fully divine – united to God in a family relationship. Sheep of the shepherd. Branches of the vine. Children of the father.
To know Jesus is to become like him. And to become like Jesus is to become fully ourselves. Dwelling in the divine, and embodying him. Becoming sons and daughters of God by adoption. God wants to make us like Jesus.
This is why, in our reading this morning, John says that “everyone who has faith that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” When we know and love Jesus, we know and love his father. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Before, we did not know God, but now we know him, because we have met Jesus. And Jesus gives us this commandment: That we love one another.
God’s commandments are not a heavy burden. When we listen to God, when we follow his commandments, he frees us to love one another as brothers and sisters. He empowers us to become children of God. We participate in Jesus’ triumph over the powers of darkness and death. Standing in the faith of Jesus, we experience the victory that conquers the world.
The last verse of John’s words to us this morning are a little strange. He says that Jesus came by water and blood – “not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.” What is John talking about here?
These are the kind of verses that generate a lot of discussions among theologians. How does this passage relate to Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus, in John 3, when Jesus teaches that everyone must be born of water and the Spirit? Is John talking about the relationship of water baptism and spiritual baptism – the spirit and the flesh? Is this a reference to the water and blood that came from Jesus’ side as he died on the cross?
But when I read these words this morning, I am reminded of what birth is like. Real, actual, non-metaphorical birth. When George, and Francis, and Amos were born, it was messy. There was a lot of water. There was blood. It was kind of scary. It wasn’t clear what was going to happen, even though we had trained people with us to help us. Because birth is uncertain, even dangerous.
And so when I hear John saying to us that Jesus is “the one who came by water and blood… not with the water only but with the water and the blood,” I can only say, “amen.” That’s how birth is. Watery. Bloody. Scary. Amazing.
I think of Jesus on the cross, and the victory that he won there: Over the world, over the power of sin, death, and the devil. Was that a kind of birth?
What does this birth mean for us? What does it mean for us, as his brothers and sisters by adoption? What does it mean for us as we obey his commandments? As we become more and more like him. How is God calling us to be born, “not with the water only, but with the water and the blood”?
This sounds scary. It sounds painful. But we don’t have to be afraid, because the one giving birth to us is God. The one caring for us, acting as midwife, is the Holy Spirit. We can trust our mother. We can trust the midwife. We can trust our brother Jesus, who has shown us the way and gives us power to be born again, triumphing over all the confusion, and pain, and obstacles that hold us in the darkness.
We know we love God when we love one another. We conquer the world when we trust that Jesus is the Son of God.
Because Jesus was born, we can be, too. Because Jesus died, we can live. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can become sons and daughters of God, coming through the water and the blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is the truth.